Category Archives: Mutual Fund Commentary

August 1, 2019

By David Snowball

Dear friends,

Welcome to our annual summer seersucker edition of Mutual Fund Observer! Lots of folks are on vacation – we got nearly 200 “I’m on vacation! Huzzah!” auto-replies to our monthly announcement – and lots of folks are coping with unprecedented heat. The triple digit temps that toasted about two-thirds of the US in mid-July are being repeated across Europe now.

American cities are poorly prepared for heat waves; European cities are far more poorly constructed for them since their summer highs used to be 10-20 degrees cooler than what’s typical in the Continue reading →

Mauritius Madness

By David Snowball

The word of the week is “Mauritius.”

For those of us who dozed through World Geography we’ve highlighted the country in question.

Google kindly offers the following snapshot: “Mauritius, an Indian Ocean island nation, is known for its beaches, lagoons and reefs. The mountainous interior includes Black River Gorges National Park, with rainforests, waterfalls, hiking trails and Continue reading →

Funds for Muslim investors

By David Snowball

One of the charms of our country is all of the stuff we don’t ask. Our federal census does not, and has not since the 1950s (quick thanks to David Moran for his insight into census history), asked people about their religious preference or practices. That’s good because it’s none of the guvmint’s damned business. It’s also bad because religion is an important element of our individual and collective culture; in the absence of official estimations, a host of (sometimes laughably inept) unofficial calculations substitute.

The Pew Research Center (2018) estimates that there are “3.45 million Muslims of all ages living in the U.S. in 2017, and that Continue reading →

Steven and Sisyphus

By David Snowball

Active management, as a discipline, is hard.

Active management, as a sustainable business, is harder.

Active management, as a sustainable business run by an independent investment boutique, no matter how skilled, is crazy hard, getting crazier and getting harder.

When, on top of all that, it feels like a megalithic corporation has it out for you, you’d surely feel like it’s time to surrender and put Sisyphus on the Continue reading →

Overachieving defenders: Your late-cycle shopping list

By David Snowball

Investors are pulled by three competing forces just now.

Force One: The market is going to crash soon enough.

Longest bull market in US history. Valuations, based on 10-year CAPE or Shiller average, have only been higher twice in market history: 1929 and 2000. Record earnings, which make stocks look cheaper, are starting to wobble. Economic policy is being made by tweet by a guy still in his jammies. Trade war. Brexit. $1,200,000,000,000 federal budget Continue reading →

Bright guys saying dumb things

By David Snowball

I’m inured to stupid stories (“12% annual returns from a three-stock portfolio allow smart investors to retire at age 24 with $12 million!”) originating from “financial journalists” that no one has ever heard of. Those folks exist because the news hole has become a black hole.

The “news hole” is the amount of space, in a newspaper or magazine, or time, in a news broadcast, available for the news of the day. It used to be a constraining factor: if you only have 23 minutes (or 400 column inches) a day available, you had to make editorial judgments about what was Continue reading →

Launch Alert: Vanguard Global ESG Select Stock Fund

By David Snowball

On May 21, 2019, Vanguard launched its Global ESG Select Stock Fund (VEIGX/VESGX). The fund is subadvised by Wellington Management. It is Vanguard’s fourth socially-screened product after FTSE Social Index (VFTSX), ESG U.S. Stock ETF (ESGV) and ESG International Stock ETF (VSGX). Vanguard funds sponge up money pretty promptly: Social Index, launched in 2000, has $5.6 billion but the domestic and international ETFs are under a year old and have gathered $570 million and $380 million, respectively. Morningstar likes them all.

Matthew Brancato of Vanguard claims the fund “is taking a distinctive approach to ESG investing, seeking long-term outperformance through the selection of companies that integrate leading ESG practices into Continue reading →

Briefly Noted . . .

By David Snowball

Updates

The ETF industry has continued to distinguish itself for its almost laughable me-tooism. The themes of the day are marijuana (ETFMG Alternative Harvest ETF MJ, AdvisorShares Pure Cannabis ETF YOLO, AdvisorShares Vice ETF ACT which splits time between tobacco, pot and alcohol, The Cannabis ETF THCX, Cambria Cannabis ETF TOKE, Amplify Seymour Cannabis ETF CNBS, Cannabis Growth Opportunity Corp CWWBF) and pets (and pet parents). There are even articles now on the top marijuana ETFs for 2019 and the best marijuana ETFs for conservative portfolios. Uhhh … note to conservative investors, (1) the oldest and largest of these ETFs substantially trails the Vanguard Total Stock Market over the past three years yet has triple the volatility and (2) possession of marijuana is still a federal crime. Continue reading →

July 1, 2019

By David Snowball

Dear friends,

It’s not yet the height of summer, but it’s starting to feel like it at Augustana. Our summer classes, held only in June, have ended and the hubbub of the new year is still a distant cloud on the horizon. I visit campus to catch up on my reading – it’s what scholars do – and to pursue bits and pieces of administrative work for my dean. Rather than camp in my office all day, I wander around at lunchtime and recently discovered our always-bustling patio and picnic lawn look Continue reading →

The Rise of the Active ETFs

By David Snowball

Active ETFs are a sort of hybrid between more-traditional ETFs and actively-managed mutual funds. Like traditional ETFs, they trade on the secondary market which means that the advisor doesn’t need to keep cash on hand in order to meet day-to-day withdrawal needs. Some of the expenses traditionally borne by the advisor either don’t exist (ETFs have fewer shareholder reports than, by law, mutual funds do) or are shifted to the brokerage firm. They also offer a structural tax advantage: shareholders aren’t responsible for the yearly tax consequences (and record-keeping) of the manager’s moves; shareholders are taxed only when they Continue reading →

Launch Alert: Harbor International Small Cap (HIISX)

By David Snowball

On May 23, 2019, Harbor Capital Advisors did a hard reset on Harbor International Small Cap (HIISX). Over its first three years, the fund’s returns trailed nearly three-quarters of its peers with only a tiny bit less volatility. Harbor chose to empanel a new subadvisor, Cedar Street Asset Management which was founded in April of 2016, is an employee-owned investment management firm and has $220 million in assets under management as of May 31, 2019. Since Cedar Street brings a distinct strategy that has little in common with their predecessors, MFO classifies this as Continue reading →

Launch Alert: Palm Valley Capital Fund (PVCMX)

By David Snowball

On April 30, 2019, Palm Valley Capital Management launched their first, and likely only, fund: Palm Valley Capital Fund (PVCMX). The managers are seeking long-term total return. The plan is to invest in a compact portfolio of high-quality, substantially undervalued small cap stocks.

What are they planning to do?

Their goal is to provide “an attractive Continue reading →

Around the Isle in Eleven Days

By David Snowball

Chip and I aspire to travel internationally once every two years. Our hope, in part, is to get far away from the noise long enough that we actually manage to unwind. Our ideal trips feature cool sites, the opportunity to sit and talk with people, and one outstanding meal a day. Two years ago that took place in Scotland, this year Ireland, and two years hence, Italy. Continue reading →

Thirty days in The Shadows

By David Snowball

I write, frequently, with admiration and gratitude, about the contributions TheShadow makes both to our discussion board and to our final double-check of coverage in each month’s Briefly Noted column. For those wondering exactly how much cool stuff one person might extract from the swamp of SEC filings each month, here are The Shadow’s contributions for the month of June 2019.

The live, clickable version Continue reading →

Briefly Noted

By David Snowball

Updates

“At a special meeting held on June 7, 2019, shareholders of Nuveen High Income Bond Fund did not approve the proposed reorganization of the Fund into TIAA-CREF High-Yield Fund that was previously approved by the Board of Directors of the Fund in December 2018 … the Board will review and take such action as it deems to be in the best interests of the Fund, including continuing to operate the Fund as described in the prospectus, liquidating the Fund, or such other options the Board may consider. Fund shareholders will be notified when the Board approves a course of action for the Fund.”

Shareholder democracy in action! The shareholders say “no” and Continue reading →

June 1, 2019

By David Snowball

Dear friends,

Oops … I did it again!

On May 19, 2019, I helped launch my 35th cohort of Augustana grads on an unsuspecting world. With modest pomp, stirring music, one thoughtful address (that no one will remember) and one clunky one (likewise, thank God), I participated in the college’s 159th commencement. Afterward, by long tradition, the graduates filtered through the throng of faculty, exchanging tears and laughter, thanks and hugs.

And then they were gone. It’s bittersweet to have a career forever predicated upon bidding farewell to amazing young folks just as they hit their stride. They were a challenge, and they’re Continue reading →

Launch Alert: Zeo Sustainable Credit Fund (ZSRIX)

By David Snowball

On May 31, 2019, Zeo Capital Advisors launched Zeo Sustainable Credit Fund (ZSRIX). The fund seeks to provide risk-adjusted total returns consisting of income and moderate capital appreciation. This marks the launch of Zeo’s second fund, after Zeo Short Duration Income (ZEOIX).

ZEOIX has performed exceedingly well over its eight years. The fund’s risk-adjusted returns have been best-in-class and its expenses have fallen. The limitation perceived by some of its major investors is that it is duration-constrained; that is, it doesn’t have the flexibility to pursue many attractive longer-duration opportunities. ZSRIX is designed to Continue reading →

Launch Alert: Cannabis Growth Fund (CANNX/CANIX)

By David Snowball

On February 22, 2019, Foothill Capital Management launched the Cannabis Growth Fund (CANNX/CANIX). The fund seeks to provide long-term capital appreciation through investing globally in companies “engaged exclusively in legal cannabis activities under applicable national and local laws, including U.S. federal and state law.” This marks the launch Continue reading →

Briefly Noted

By David Snowball

Updates

The Balter Invenomic Fund (BIVIX) is in the process of shedding Balter. As a practical matter, that will translate to a name change, Invenomic Fund, and little more. BIVIX is, as we noted in our May 2019 profile, an exceptionally strong performer with steady asset growth.  The manager is both talented and self-assured, so I’m not particularly concerned though I am curious. The proxy document offers this somewhat cryptic explanation for the change:

BLA (i.e., Balter Liquid Alts) informed the Board that it was making this request because it is currently exiting the investment advisory business due to uncertainty involving a “seed investor” which could potentially affect its ability to provide services to the Fund and other funds in the future. BLA believes that this transition is in the best interest of the Fund and its shareholders as it will provide continuity for the Fund and create a more direct relationship between shareholders and Invenomic. The seed investor currently holds a non-voting equity interest in BLA and initially contributed seed capital for the Fund. 

Continue reading →

May 1, 2019

By David Snowball

Dear friends,

HESCO barriers are really impressive.  They were conceived by James “Jimi” Heselden, a British entrepreneur and former coal miner. They are, at base, portable protective barriers; a box of heavy steel mesh that gets lined with a heavy plastic tarp and filled with sand. Start to finish, two guys and a front-loader can get one of these things built, positioned and filled in 20 minutes. The alternative, about 1500 sandbags, would take 10 guys far longer.  They’re strong enough that the military uses them as blast-proof fortifications and governments worldwide use them as protection against hurricanes. They can be strung together to form a continuous barrier a mile long.

They’re really impressive.

But the Mississippi, running at flood crest, is Continue reading →